Something many have suspected has now come to light as the International Community of Women Living with HIV\Aids (ICW) prepares to sue the Namibian government over 15 cases for the forced sterilization of women. Forced sterilizations have also taken place in the DRC, Zambia, South Africa. In South Africa there are cases of HIV positive women being forced into agreeing to sterilization in order to access medical treatment. Overall there is a campaigin amongst certain governments to sterilize HIV positive without their consent in yet another attack against women bodies.
The ICW has documented cases in Namibia where HIV-positive women minutes from giving birth were encouraged to sign consent forms to prevent them from having more children. Jennifer Gatsi-Mallet, its co-ordinator in the country, said: “They were in pain, they were told to sign, they didn’t know what it was. They thought that it was part of their HIV treatment. None of them knew what sterilisation was, including those from urban areas, because it was never explained to them.
“After six weeks they went to the family planning centre for birth control pills and were told that it’s not necessary: they’re sterile. Most of them were very upset. When they went back to the hospital and asked, ‘Why did you do this to us?’ the answer was: ‘You’ve got HIV’.”
Gatsi-Mallet said that some women were now afraid to go to hospital in case they are sterilised, and infertile women were often rejected by their husbands and communities: “In African culture, if you are not able to have children, you are ostracised. It’s worse than having HIV.”
African women aged between 20 and 34 have a higher prevalence of HIV than any other social group; in South Africa one in three is infected.
On average an HIV-positive mother has a one in four risk of transmitting the virus to her child. With the latest antiretroviral drugs, the probability can be cut to less than one in 50. But such medical interventions are underfunded and inaccessible to millions of women across the continent.
The ICW accuses the Namibian government of encouraging state doctors to sterilise HIV-positive women as a means of preventing the spread of the virus. Its request to see the government’s official guidelines has been refused. It hopes to bring 15 or more cases to court later this year.
Further reading on forced sterilisation and medical experimentation on Black women – in the US but no reason to doubt that this cannot or has not taken place in Africa.